I only caught the last half-hour of the first O’Malley-Ehrlich debate, televised on WJZ last week. I tuned in just as the former governor trashed the former mayor of Baltimore’s record on crime.

Ehrlich blasted O’Malley on the issue of so-called illegal arrests – while he was Baltimore’s mayor – a subject that continues to spark a visceral reaction by many in Baltimore’s Black community and has proven to be a bane for O’Malley.

Unfortunately for Ehrlich and his supporters, that was perhaps the only real, strong shot he landed on O’Malley during that first debate, which led many observers to tag the Arbutus native’s performance with words like agitated and uneven.

O’Malley zealots would probably love to liken last week’s televised encounter to the iconic Nixon-Kennedy debates of a half century ago. But of course Ehrlich wasn’t as frazzled as “Tricky Dick” and O’Malley wasn’t as smooth as the debonair Kennedy.

However, Ehrlich opened that specific chapter of O’Malley’s tenure as the city’s 47th mayor for a reason. “He’s not real popular (in Baltimore) to begin with and we’re pretty strong here,” Ehrlich said during a meeting at the AFRO.

Hyperbole aside, Ehrlich’s strategy is transparent and logical; if he has any shot of returning to Annapolis as governor, he needs to keep O’Malley’s numbers down in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City – the state’s two strongholds of Black political power – by suppressing the Black vote or cutting into it significantly.

“Bob Ehrlich is not counting on the Black vote but O’Malley is completely dependent on it,” Del. Jill Carter told the AFRO last week. So in Maryland, the Black community has a chance to play a significant role in the outcome of O’Malley-Ehrlich II.

Here we go again…

Recently some of Baltimore’s Black community members have been scrambling to put together an agenda to get the two candidates to respond in some cogent way to specific concerns. Many of these concerns – jobs, housing, healthcare, crime – are not new. But the worldwide economic collapse has created a new sense of urgency in some of the old battles and Blacks, as usual, have borne a disproportionate brunt of the economic meltdown across the board.

The Black agenda in Baltimore includes concerns about the future of Baltimore’s 7th Congressional District. What happens after Elijah Cummings? Before Cummings the seat was held by Kweisi Mfume and before him Parren Mitchell. But with significant demographic shifts, a Black majority and a Black representative are no longer guaranteed in the Black district.

With the recent narrow defeat of Pat Jessamy as Baltimore’s State’s Attorney, fear of a “police state,” continue to rumble through the city. Here in Baltimore and across the state the Black community wants to see a greater emphasis on rehabilitation as opposed to simply locking people up. And Blacks want to see more appointments of Black judges across the state.

While O’Malley and Ehrlich bash each other incessantly with myriad negative political ads via television and radio, some in the Black community are looking for answers to challenges that have created a new, more dire, 21st century reality for many people of color.

While we look for answers, again O’Malley is looking for Black votes.

That’s why President Barack Obama – who remains wildly popular in the Black community – made the trip down the Parkway to stump for the Maryland Governor last week. And the President produced a nice radio spot for O’Malley for good measure.

Ehrlich might not be dependent upon Black votes to take him back to the top, but he probably wouldn’t mind a little Black voter apathy on November 2.


Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor